This week’s cases were taken from the most recent set of Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman complaints, and they are compelling.
One of the biggest takeaways from these cases is the investigatory gap which exists between complaints bodies, resulting in important issues going un-examined.
For example, the Ombudsman can look at council process, but it cannot investigate matters being looked at in family courts, even if some of the elements in those cases also do not fall within the court’s remit.
The end result creates a loophole, in which families and children find they cannot seek relief for the most basic of injustices. The cases below highlight this point.
London Borough of Bromley (18 015 715)
This case features a complaint made by parents in relation to the way the council issued care proceedings for their son, who has autism. The parents said they had been treated badly by social workers and had been routinely ignored when they asked for information during the proceedings.
They had contacted the council to seek support for their son, but found that the council was more interested in issuing care proceedings, after discovering their son’s needs were complex and posed a substantial challenge to the council.
The parents accused the council of issuing unnecessary care proceedings and of fabricating risk assessments to meet the relevant thresholds for care applications.
The council then dropped its care application ten minutes before the hearing and provided no explanation for changing its mind.
Very much worth a read, for the several other awkward developments which prevented this family from having their complaint properly examined.
London Borough of Newham (18 017 840)
This case involved a couple who were informed by the council that their baby would be taken into care as soon as the child was born (the Ombudsman uses the word ‘it’ to describe the baby, we wish people wouldn’t), but were also initially told that would not be the case.
The couple’s relationship was marked by some domestic violence, but both parents actively took classes and assessments to try to address their conduct. The court noted the effort and set aside the adoption order the council requested to allow the mother to be assessed further.
The family were reunited, and lived under a supervision order until it ran out in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, the parents felt they had been badly treated by the council.
However, the case was set aside by the Ombudsman for exceeding the time limit to apply to the complaints body.
Birmingham City Council (19 002 217)
This complaint stems from the way a mother and her children were treated by social services, and the errors she said were prevalent in the council’s files about her case.
One of the concerns the mother raised was that social workers arrived at her children’s school to observe them. In a previous post on RR, we explain that this practice has no legitimate policy or law to underpin it, and that social worker visits during school hours whether to observe, interview or remove a child are not professional, nor are they appropriate. (And Ofsted agrees).
The case also involved surveillance of the family, the mother being questioned in the street by council officers, and allegations that the mother had committed criminal offences, which the mother said was not true.
The Ombudsman said it could not investigate what happened within schools, and that it did not have any evidence to find fault with the council, and so the complaint was dropped.
Sheffield City Council (18 015 263)
In this case, a father who alleged that the mother of his child had been emotionally abusive to their son complained that the council had used incorrect and outdated information about him during the proceedings.
That information was being transferred to other departments to be used for assessments, therefore perpetuating the errors which made the assessments inaccurate and flawed.
The father told the Ombudsman that if the assessments in this case had been carried out properly, he would not have lost contact with his children.
The mother made a number of false allegations against the father which were disproved by previous assessments but not taken into account during the final proceedings. There were also concerns that the children’s wishes and feelings were not properly documented.
The father asked for several remedies, most of which the Ombudsman could not offer, but the Ombudsman approved a small sum for compensation. This is what the Ombudsman said:
“The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman does not give ‘compensation’ in the way a court might – we remedy injustice arising from Council fault. Our guidance says, in relation to payments for ‘distress’ and ‘time and trouble’, these are ‘more of a symbolic payment, which serves as an acknowledgement of the distress or difficulties’. I set out agreed payments below:
- For the Council to apologise to Mr E, in particular for complaint d) which I consider should have been upheld within a month of the date of my decision.
- For the Council to make a payment of £300 for the time and trouble experienced by Mr E. Mr E expected the matters he complained of in 2012 to be resolved so he would not need to make the same complaint again. The Council will also make a payment of £300 for the distress experienced by Mr E, which has, again, been prolonged because he has had to revisit the incorrect statements made about him. I note the Council has already made a payment of £500 to Mr E as a remedy to his complaints and will pay a further £100 within a month of the date of my decision.
- For the Council to consider whether it needs specific guidance on emotional abuse for social workers who are carrying out assessments. It should tell me what action it plans to take within two months of the date of my decision.
- For the Council to share information with the other council about matters that affect its assessment of Mr E’s other children within a month of the date of my decision.”